It’s simplest to introduce her as my niece. “Second cousin once removed” is too much of a mouthful and leaves people with puzzled expressions of confusion. She is 20 years old, born and raised in western Pennsylvania, the daughter of my second cousin Sheryl. Two summers ago, Andrea and her friend Morgan flew to Arizona to stay with me for a week. For the girls, it was a high school graduation trip. For me, it was a chance to temporarily rejoin the giggly, spur-of-the-moment, life-embracing exhuberance of teenage girls.
I took them to the Grand Canyon and hot yoga. They took me for a pedicure and a shopping trip. I fell in love with them, and Andrea fell in love with Arizona. A year later, she returned for a second visit with her mom. And then, in January , she transferred to Arizona State University, where she is taking a rigorous course of study she hopes will prepare her for dental school. For this semester, she is living with us in what used to be our son Andy’s bedroom. She calls it the “man cave.” It’s anything but manly now. For the first time in my life as the mother of two sons, lovely, perfume-y scents waft down the hallway and pretty, pastel items have joined the cozy clutter of my household. Several times since Andrea moved in, friends and family members have asked me, “How’s it going?” — usually with concerned looks on their faces. Well, I can honestly say it’s going great. Andrea is, for this short time in my life, the daughter I never had. For someone who also grew up with two brothers, and never experienced the close bonds of sisterhood, this has been nothing short of transformational.
Andrea has helped me re-embrace my inner girl. She is the one who introduced me to texting and TLC’s “What Not to Wear” (I’d honestly never seen it before). When we go shopping, she drags me into Victoria’s Secret (I was always too intimidated) and some of the younger-demographic shops, including Tilly’s and her favorite, American Eagle. (I’ve actually bought a few things!) As a mostly-vegetarian eater and an avid student of nutrition, she has me re-examining what I put in my mouth. (I thought I was doing pretty well before, but she showed me how to up my game.) Over spring break, she went with us to visit Dan’s mom in Santa Barbara, Calif. We walked on the beach, groaned about the calories as we shared a piece of peanut butter ice cream pie at Tupelo Junction Cafe and spent an entire afternoon laughing, talking and painting our nails by the pool before we attended a performance at the Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra (Dan’s sister Sally, is one of the violinists). On the drive home, we launched what we’re calling “The Great Shred of Spring 2010.” As we debated the rules for this project — which has both fitness and attitude goals — I typed the contract on my laptop. Andrea wants to tone up for swimsuit season; I want to increase my endurance and strength (no amount of toning will make these 54-year-old thighs feel good about a swim suit). We are both working on ridding ourselves of negative thinking and self-deprecation. Our contract spells out the consequences for slipping up: 20 pushups. (I’m not even sure I can do 20 pushups…but I’m quite sure Andrea will make me now that I’ve written something negative about my thighs). Yesterday, when our project began, I woke up to a message on my Facebook: Welcome to the 2010 Shred. Remember those 20 pushups calling your name 🙂 We met for hot yoga at 4, then came home to showers and fruit smoothies and a quick trip to the grocery store, where we stocked up on healthy foods for the rest of the week. At our required daily check-in, we compared notes on how we’d done with our eating and attitudes. This morning, we went for a 7am hike in the misty, aromatic, post-rain calm of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. As I trudged along far behind her, I watched her neon-green shorts in the distance and smiled. I wish this semester could last forever.